American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
In the late 1960s, revolution seemed to be in the air. Not a revolt powerful enough to topple the government, but one intense enough to threaten its expectations. Then the war was over, the draft was ended, and the moment had passed. "Night Catches Us" takes place in Philadelphia of 1976 when the Black Panthers are still alive in the memory.
The film doesn't open with that large canvas, however, but with a small one. Marcus (Anthony Mackie) walks past a Cadillac in a driveway and into a house, and is told "your father is in the living room." The father's introduction is an example of one shot doing the work of much dialogue. Marcus has a brother, Bostic (Tariq Trotter), who harbors much anger against him, and slowly we learn that Marcus is believed in the neighborhood to have betrayed a Panther comrade and been responsible for his death.
So deep was this belief that Marcus left town for some years, and it's still not comfortable for him to walk in the neighborhood. One person who doesn't hold him accountable is the dead man's widow, Patricia (Kerry Washington); she's a lawyer, a widow with a daughter, and we sense immediately that there's unfinished passion between them. Perhaps people suspected that, and tied it to the dead Panther's betrayal.
This is not an action film. It is a movie about loss, sadness and regret, and the feeling that history has moved on. Bostic symbolizes that by having joined the Black Muslims, a group which by then represented a similar rejection of white society and even a some what similar iconography. Bostic is finished with the past. He can't wait to sell the family house.
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